Belgian police watching farmers in Brussels on February 1 Carl Deconinck - Brussels Signal


Belgian police plough same furrow as angry farmers


As outraged Belgian farmers continued to block ports and borders in the Netherlands, police authorities issued a statement of public support for the protesters – appearing to share their discontent with the Government.

On the morning of February 2, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo called time on the blockades.

“The signal has been given, also from our side,” he said, adding that those at all political levels were talking with farmers and “would listen”.

That seemed to fall on deaf ears among the VSOA, the union representing the Belgian police.

It indicated in a public statement that its members would not be breaking up any blockade any time soon. On the contrary, it offered support to the demonstrators and said it “shared grievances” over the Government.

Writing to the farmers, the statement read: “You have faced increasingly stringent regulations and sharply rising costs imposed by political authorities in recent years.

“In such circumstances, how can a young farmer still believe in a future where hard work is rewarded?

“We understand your anger towards a Government that fails to uphold agreements and remains apathetic to your call to anchor and guarantee the future of agriculture in Belgium,” the VSOA said.

Police authorities accuse the Belgian Government of having “broken promises” in the past and, thus, it is “untrustworthy”.

“We share your anger,” the VSOA added, regarding the farmers’ outrage.

It went on: “Add a dash of arrogance and a disconnected view of reality to that, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone why people harbour a disdain for the traditional parties that have been governing the country for decades.

“We understand and share your feelings of frustration towards these politicians; moreover, we stand with you in the fight to expose and address this.”

Late on February 1, interior minister Annelies Verlinden, thereby the de facto chief of police, told media that “dialogue” was “the best solution”.

That seemed to many to indicate some leniency towards the farmers by the police – and perhaps a conscious shift in attitude from the Government.

“The police intervention hasn’t decreased; it’s just less visible,” she said.

“The water cannon, grenades, or tear gas are the last resort. Now, there is more emphasis on discussions with farmers about the space they are allowed for protests,” Verlinden said on public TV station vrtNews.

“It is not up to me to remove the blockages.”

Regardless, it seems the reality is more nuanced. For many it appears there has been a decision by the police to back the protests – in defiance of any desire the Government might have regarding the situation.

Law enforcement authorities have declared the farmers have “massive support with the population” and wished them “a lot of success” in their struggles.

They do, though, request that the farmers show “respect” for the police and not to use violence against them.

“In return, we, the police forces, will always continue to do our utmost to accompany your actions so that your message is heard,” it was stated.

The Belgian Government and the police have had a difficult relationship since Brussels failed, in the eyes of law enforcement authorities, to honour promises of improved salaries and other remuneration.

Added to that is a perceived lack of respect illustrated for example, police officials say, by “inadequate” punishment for criminals convicted of attacking their members.